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Top Gun 51: Here’s How Top Channel Executives Made Our List

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Cloud changes everything. What it took to be a great channel leader when most of our Top Gun 51 joined their current companies won’t get them – or their partners – to the next level. These execs are leading the flight away from an increasingly stagnant, traditional and transactional IT business model and linear supply chain to one that is persistent, fluid and non-transactional, at a velocity never before experienced.

Looking at it another way, if you can’t take the churn and burn, then maybe you don’t have the right stuff.

PartnerPath's Diane Krakora

PartnerPath’s Diane Krakora

“We’re moving from focusing on landing the sale to technology/production adoption, usage, optimization and renewal,” said Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath. “Yesterday’s channel leaders were sales managers focused on moving product — sell-in and sell-through. Tomorrow’s channel leaders need to inspire and facilitate a robust ecosystem of a variety of partners that put together complex solutions to address a customer’s business need or opportunity.”

The channel leader role historically has been defined by sales managers who were responsible for growing revenue through channel sales. Today, the sales role is just one of several that channel executives must balance. Here are some others: ultimate communicator, visionary, influencer within the organization, risk taker who is comfortable being uncomfortable, strategist over tactician, and leader capable of being agile and understanding the full customer cycle — just to name a few.

The channel leader who is a winner in the eyes of partners is all this — and someone who drives profit. After all, that’s always been the name of the game: How do I make money?

And therein lies the challenge for today’s channel executives. Partners look to you to be the early warning radar, but many any are late to the game because the cloud took them by surprise. And, the average tenure of a channel chief is only 18 months, says Anurag Agrawal, CEO and analyst at Techaisle, and a Top Gun 51 nominator.

We recently unveiled our “Top Gun 51,” today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

It’s hard to make significant institutional changes or pivot a channel strategy in just a year-and-a-half. No wonder many channel leaders haven’t changed their approach to working with partners in this new era, and so partner programs evolve as an afterthought.

Techaisle's Anurag Agrawal

Techaisle’s Anurag Agrawal

“Ten, 15 years ago, things were different,” said Agrawal. “It was all about physical products — building faster servers, building new PCs, improving storage compression rates. And that fit neatly into existing partner programs. Next thing you know, 10 years goes by and now we have things being sold as a service and we’re in a post-transaction phase, and the partner channel teams don’t know how to take advantage of it and how they measure partner success.”

That’s because the vision and strategy at many vendor companies include input from the business unit leaders and the product leaders, but not the channel leaders.

“The channel leader is not in the boardroom, in most cases, and they need to be, because 75% of the world goes indirect,” said Jay McBain, principal analyst, global channels at Forrester, who also helped select our Top Guns. “Why? Because they don’t have the science to go compete for those dollars if they don’t know to a decimal point how much revenue the channel can drive.”

Agrawal agrees. “The CEO and the board must empower the partners and the partner chief a lot more than they’re doing now,” he said. “Unless they’re there, they won’t succeed.”

The distribution and master-agent executives who helped us select those Top Guns recognize this as well.

“Today’s channel chief is …

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